Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The future of this blog

Over the past 2 years, I have written a lot of blog posts about Kellogg. Now that my Kellogg journey is over and I am about to join McKinsey, my blog post writing would become rather limited. I can only write certain things about my experience because of client confidentiality reasons. Most of the posts would be limited to my reflections on life, and technology and entrepreneurship - unrelated to my work at McKinsey. So look to hear from me, but on a more infrequent basis. Till then...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Words of caution: Lean startup methodology

I am a big fan of the Lean Startup methodology, and related concepts such as customer development and minimum viable product. The Lean Statup Machine weekend was super helpful for me in learning and practicing the methodology more, and learning from an awesome set of mentors. As I learn this methodology more and more, there are some words of caution for newbies:

1. There is a big learning curve as far as practicing the methodology is concerned. Several pieces of it are science, and can be learned quickly, while others are more art than science. Take for example customer interviews. One has to learn how to structure customer interviews for maximum learning, from being flexible to focusing more on customer problems and not your solution. As you do more and more interviews, you do get better at them.

2. It is imperative that you select your interviewees carefully. What exactly is your target market? Often, one can build a solution for the general population, but identifying a particular target which might have the largest need for the solution is imperative. And one can stumble across this target by interviewing several potential targets. How do you determine best prospects? In words of Paul Graham, that is a function of "How much of a problem they have, and how quickly they come to a decision"

3. Asking if a prospect has a problem is also a tricky process. Let's face it, we hate problems. We do whatever we can to deal with them - come up with a solution, or rationalize them/fail to recognize that they exist. Let's take the example of buying an airline ticket. If you asked someone if they have a problem doing this twenty years ago, the answer would be no! I call up my travel agent or visit him/her, and in no time, I have my ticket. But then again, how easy is it to buy tickets online? If we cannot see a solution, we will likely rationalize problems. They key is not to have the whole population admit that there is a problem. They key is to find a few people who think that it is a big problem, and are willing to be your first customers, and to find a lot of other people who are willing to admit to it being somewhat of a problem, who will jump to the solution if it is really good.

4. Experts are often wrong. As the mentors at LSM NYC said, their opinion is also just one data point. They can probably give you the best advice on how to practice the methodology, but their advice is less useful on a particular concept.

5. It is great if you can have someone review your iterations - hopefully someone who knows about this methodology, but even someone who is just willing to be logical is good enough.

More to be added as I think of them....

Friday, August 5, 2011

I got my back!

How often does one have life changing experiences? I had one recently.

First, a bit of history. I have had back, shoulder and neck pain for a few years now. I have seen chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists. I have changed mattresses, seating positions, tried exercises, breathing routines etc. Nothing helped. The pain could be triggered by anything - sleeping, sitting, walking, weight exercises etc. I gave up weight training, tennis, running etc.

This is the story of how it changed.

I have been living at my mother-in-law's place in Long Island for the past month. There, I discovered a book called 'Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection.' The book is written by Dr. John E. Sarno, who has extensive experience in treating pack pain.

The basic premise of the book is this: the neck and back pain so common in the world now, is caused by any physiological condition in most people; in other words, there is nothing wrong with your back! The condition is called TMS (Tension Mytostis Syndrome). As you might have guessed, that has to do with tension. But how could tension cause back pain?

I always understood that tension played a major role in my back pain. But I did not understand how tension could cause back pain. Was I tensing muscles too much? Maybe that is why my back, neck and head always hurt in stressful situations like giving major presentations?

It turns out that it isn't so. With all the advances in medical technology, we do not understand a major part of the body very well: the mind. According to the book, the mind actually plays a trick with us. Rather than making us face unpleasant emotions like anger and anxiousness, it distracts us by causing back pain through mild oxygen deprivation in the back muscles.

So how does one go about and fix this problem? One simple way is to get rid of the tension! Of course, if that was required to be done, the doctor would achieve success in less than 1% of the patients. Tension, stress, anxiety and anger are part and parcel of emotions one feels. So then what?

The answer is - just call the bluff! Talk to your brain. Tell it that its trick will not work. That you know the true cause, and will not be fooled. Remind yourself of this every day. And when the pain starts to get better, start all physical exercise you gave up, again!

When I first read this, I thought - well this is utter crap! Its more like science fiction than anything else. Talk to my brain? Do you think I am crazy?

I had nothing to lose, so I tried it anyway. I read the book three times. Reviewed these reminders every day. I believed I was going to get rid of my back pain. Things started improving, and I started to run on the treadmill, started doing weights.

It's been about four weeks now. I am not completely pain free yet, but the pain is almost un-noticeable; almost 80% less than before. I still get bouts of pain. Recently, an event caused me lot of worry, and I immediately felt intense back pain. But I reminded myself that the pain was because of the anxiousness. By the evening, the pain was completely gone.

This experience has changed my life. I was worried about how the back pain would affect my upcoming job and travel at McKinsey. My mind is much at ease now, and I am optimistic that I can keep the pain at bay through the trials and tribulations of a consulting job.

Wish me luck!

P.S. I noticed one cool thing. If you google 'McKinsey Summer Associate,' my blog entry
comes in
as result #5, right after McKinsey's website and glassdoor.com. Awesome!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The power of black and white

Most things in life are grey. As human beings we are susceptible to making wrong decisions when things are grey. For example, I should only have a small piece of the brownie. Yeah, this looks like a small piece. But come on, one more piece wouldn't hurt me right. It's been 30 minutes since the last piece - surely I can have one more small piece, right?

The power of black and white is enormous. If we set up rules which make an action clearly right, or clearly wrong, we are much more likely to choose the right path. For example, I am following a diet called the Four Hour Body Diet. On 6 out of 7 days, I am allowed to have no carbs - essentially, no bread, pita, rice, ice cream, brownie etc. Just proteins and fat. The first 2 days of the diet are hard - damn I want that pizza now! But now it becomes clear what I can and cannot do - and I hardly ever go wrong. For six days a week, I have no pizza. Or creme brulee. It's as simple as creating the rule. That's the power of black and white.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Lean Startup Machine New York

This past weekend I participated in the Lean Startup Machine New York event. The event is dedicated to learning various practices of Lean Startups, particularly customer development.

On Thursday evening, we had a networking event to help form teams, and an introduction to the weekend. David Tisch, director of Techstars NY was a guest speaker. We continued the networking and team formation on friday evening, by when teams were solidified and teams started customer development.

I used the weekend to build on the Class Guru concept. I was lucky to be part of a team, which consisted of Vidar Brekki, CEO and founder of Social Intent, Seni Thomas, CEO and Foudner of Audience Amplify, and Paul Infield-Harm, Director of Product Development at Cyrus Innovation.

We started with discussions on the various directions that Class Guru could go in, and what problems people face in taking classes. While we had different perspectives on problems in taking classes, we were able to reach a consensus for a hypothesis by Saturday morning. From then on we conducted several iterations, each of which consisted of setting a hypothesis of the customer problem and the solution that we would provide, supporting assumptions and designing experiments on how to validate or invalidate the hypothesis. While we did do some facebook ads and landing page tests. By Sunday, we completed three iterations and presented our findings to the judges in a presentation.

The judges decided the winners based on how effectively they applied the customer development process. The teams that won this competition seemed to have learned the most; in most cases, they started with one idea, invalidated it through customer interactions and pivoted to another idea based on customer feedback.

I feel that I learned a lot about the customer development process; in particular how much can be achieved even during a single weekend. I have done customer development before, but it was the first time that I actually walked on the streets, stopping and interviewing random people. Excellent experience!